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Work-life interface

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Industrial & Organisational : Introduction : Personnel : Organizational psychology : Occupations: Work environment: Index : Outline

Work-life interface is the intersection of work and private life. Edwards and Rothbard (2000)[1] describe in their paper six mechanisms which link both work and family domain. The perspective on the work-family interface was mainly determined by work-family conflict (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985),[2] until recently also processes of work-family enrichment[3] drew attention of many scholars. Public interest with respect to the work-life interface focused on work-life balance.[4] Greenhaus and Allen (2011)[5] proposed a new definition of work-life balance as they equate work-life balance with the harmonious arrangement of work and family so that "effectiveness and satisfaction in these roles are consistent with life values" (p. 175).

Linking mechanisms at the work-life interfaceEdit

Several mechanisms link the work and private domain. Most of the studies focused on six approaches to explain the interplay between work role and family role: spillover, compensation, segmentation, resource drain, congruence, and work-family conflict (Edwards & Rothbard, 2000).


This approach focuses on the transfer of affects, values, skills, and overt behaviors from one domain have on the other domain. Furthermore, also experiences as fatigue can spill over. Positive spillover refers to situations in which, for example, energy derived from one domain transfers to another. On the contrary, in the process of negative spillover negative affects are carried from one domain to another. For example, dissatisfaction in the work domain leads to increased satisfaction dissatisfaction with life.


It is a bidirectional mechanism stating that the relationship between work and non-work domain is one in which one domain may compensate for what is missing in the other. Thus, domains are likely to be interrelated in a counterbalancing manner. For example, individuals unsatisfied with family life may try to enhance performance at work.


Domains might also be separated due to segmentation. Accordinngly, each domain operates independently. Therefore, segmentation is the antithesis of spillover theory in which it is assumed that one can actively compartmentalize competing role demands.

Resource drain

Resource drain describes the process of finite resources such as time and energy being taken away in one domain to be spend in another.


Congruence is a theory that states although a positive or negative relationship may be found between work and family, the relationship is spurious because it is caused by a third common factor, like personality.

Work-Family Conflict

WFC is also understood as a linking mechanism between work and family.

Work-family conflictEdit

Main article: Work-family conflict

Work-family conflict is defined as interrole conflict where the participation in one role interfere with the participation in another. Greenhaus and Beutell (1985) differentiate three sources for conflict between work and family:

  1. "time devoted to the requirements of one role makes it difficult to fulfill requirements of another" (p. 76);
  2. "strain from participation in one role makes it difficult to fulfill requirements of another" (p. 76);
  3. "specific behaviors required by one role make it difficult to fulfill the requirements of another" (p. 76)

Conceptually, the conflict between work and family is bi-directional. Scholars distinguish between what is termed work-to-family conflict (WFC), and what is termed family-to-work conflict (FWC). Accordingly, WFC might occur when experiences at work interfere with family life like extensive, irregular, or inflexible work hours. Family-to-work conflict occurs when experiences in the family interfere with work life. For example, a parent may take time off from work in order to take care of a sick child. Although these two forms of conflict - WFC and FWC - are strongly correlated with each other, more attention has been directed at WFC. This may because family demands are more elastic than the boundaries and responsibilities of the work role. Also, research has found that work roles are more likely to interfere with family roles than family roles are likely to interfere with work roles.

Allen, Herst, Bruck, and Sutton (2000)[6] describe in their paper three categories of consequences related to WFC: work-related outcomes (e.g., job satisfaction or job performance), nonwork-related outcomes (e.g., life or family satisfaction), and stress-related outcomes (e.g., depression or substance abuse). For example, WFC has been shown to be negatively related to job satisfaction whereas the association is more pronounced for females.[7]
The vast majority of studies investigating the consequences of WFC were interrogating samples from Western countries, such as U.S. Therefore, the generalizability of their findings is in question. Fortunately, there is also literature studying WFC and its consequences in other cultural contexts, such as Taiwan[8] and India.[9] Lu, Kao, Cooper, Allen, Lapierre, O`Driscoll, Poelmans, Sanchez, and Spector (2009) could not find any cultural difference related in work-related and nonwork-related outcomes of WFC when they compared Great Britain and Taiwan. Likewise, Pal and Saksvik (2008) also did not detect specific cultural differences between employees from Norway and India. Nevertheless, more cross-cultural research is needed to understand the cultural dimensions of the WFC construct.

The research concerning interventions to reduce WFC is currently still very limited. As an exception, Nielson, Carlson, and Lankau (2001)[10] showed that having a supportive mentor on the job correlates negatively with the employee’s WFC. However, other functions of mentoring, like the role model aspect, appear to have no effect on WFC. Therefore, the mechanisms how having a mentor influences the work-family interface remain unclear. In terms of primary and secondary intervention there are some results. Hammer, Kossek, Anger, Bodner, and Zimmerman (2011)[11] conducted a field study and showed that training supervisors to show more family supportive behavior, led to increased physical health in employees that were high in WFC. At the same time, employees having low WFC scores even decreased in physical health. This shows that even though interventions can help, it is important to focus on the right persons. Otherwise, the intervention damages more than it helps. Another study (Wilson, Polzer-Debruyne, Chen, & Fernandes, 2007)[12] showed that training employees helps to reduce shift work related WFC. Additionally, this training is more effective, if the partner of the focal person is also participating. Therefore, integrating the family into the intervention seems to be helpful too. There are various additional factors that might influence the effectiveness of WFC interventions. For example, some interventions seem more adequate to reduce family-to-work conflict (FWC) than WFC (Hammer et al., 2011). More research is still needed, before optimal treatments against WFC can be derived.

Work-family enrichmentEdit

Main article: Work-family enrichment

Work-family enrichment or work-family facilitation is a form of positive spillover, defined as a process whereby involvement in one domain establishes benefits and/or resources which then may improve performance or involvement in another domain (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006).[13] For example, involvement in the family role is made easier by participation in the work role (Wayne, Musisca, & Fleeson, 2004).[14]

In contrast to work-family conflict which is associated with several negative consequences, work-family enrichment is related to positive organizational outcomes such as job satisfaction and effort (Wayne et al., 2004). There are several potential sources enrichment can arise from. Examples are that resources (e.g., positive mood) gained in one role lead to better functioning in the other role (Sieber, 1974)[15] or skills and attitudes that are acquired in one role are useful in the other role (Crouter, 1984).[16]

Conceptually, enrichment between work and family is bi-directional. Most researchers make the distinction between what is termed work-family enrichment, and what is termed family–work enrichment. Work-family enrichment occurs, when ones involvement in work provides skills, behaviors, or positive mood which influences the family life in a positive way. Family-work enrichment, however, occurs when ones involvement in the family domain results in positive mood, feeling of success or support that help individuals to cope better with problems at work, feel more confident and in the end being more productive at work (Wayne, et al., 2004).

Several antecedents of work-family enrichment have been proposed. Personality traits, such as extraversion and openness for experience have been shown to be positively related to work-family enrichment (Wayne et al., 2004). Next to individual antecedents, organizational circumstances such as resources and skills gained at work foster the occurrence of work-family enrichment (Voydanoff, 2004).[17] For example, abilities such as interpersonal communication skills are learned at work and may then facilitate constructive communication with family members at home.

Work-life balanceEdit

Main article: Work-life balance

to edit

Boundary managementEdit

to edit

The emergence of new family modelsEdit

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The role of organization and supervisor for processes at the work-life interfaceEdit

Research has focused especially on the role of the organization and the supervisor in the reduction of WFC. Results provide evidence for the negative association between the availability of family friendly resources provided by the work place and WFC. General support by the organization aids the employees to deal with work family issues so that organizational support is negatively connected to WFC (Kossek, Pichler, Bodner, & Hammer, 2011).[18] Furthermore Kossek et al. (2011) showed that work family specific support has a stronger negative connection with work family conflict. Interesting results by other researchers show that family friendly organizational culture also has an indirect effect on WFC via supervisor support and coworker support (Dolcoy & Daley, 2009).[19] Surprisingly, some research also shows that the utilization of provided resources such as child care support or flexible work hours has no longitudinal connection with WFC (Hammer, Neal, Newson, Brockwood, & Colton, 2005).[20] This result speaks against common assumptions. Also, the supervisor has a social-support function for his/her subordinates. As Moen and Yu (2000)[21] showed supervisor support is an indicator for lower levels of WFC. Further support for this hypothesis stems from a study conducted by Thompson and Prottas (2005).[22] Keeping in mind the support function, organizations should provide trainings for the supervisors and conduct the selection process of new employees. Similar as for organizational support, the meta-analysis by Kossek et al. (2011) showed that general supervisor is negatively connected to WFC. Again, work-family-specific supervisor support has a stronger negative connection with WFC. Aside from support by the organization and the supervisor, research points out a third source of work-place support: The coworker. The informal support by the coworker not only correlates with positive aspects such as job satisfaction, but is also negatively associated with negative variables such as WFC (Dolcos & Doley, 2009; Thompson & Prottas, 2005).

In terms of work-family enrichment, supervisors and organizations are also relevant, since they are able to provide with important resource (e.g., skills and financial benefits) and positive affect.

Research methods to investigate the work-life interfaceEdit

A methodological review by Casper, Eby, Bordeaux, Lockwood, and Lambert (2007)[23] summarizes the research methods used in the area of work-family research from 1980 to 2003. Their main findings are:

· The descriptions of sample characteristics are often inconsistent and leave out essential information necessary to evaluate if generalization is appropriate or not.
· Samples are mostly homogenous, neglecting diversity regarding racial, ethnic, cultural aspects, and non-traditional families (e.g., single or homosexual parents).
· The research design of most studies is cross-sectional and correlational. Field settings are predominant (97%). Only 2% use experimental designs.
· Surveys are mostly used for data collection (85%) whereas qualitative methods are used less often. Measures are mainly derived from one single person (76%) and focus on the individual level of analysis (89%). In this respect, research on, for example, dyads and groups have been neglected.
· Simple inferential statistics are preferred (79%) instead of, for example, structural equation modeling (17%).
· Regarding reliability aspects, coefficient alpha is often provided (87%), thereby reaching .79 on average. Pre-existing scales are often used (69%) containing multi-item measures (79%).

In light of these results, Casper, et al. (2007) give several recommendations. They suggest, for example, that researchers should use more longitudinal and experimental research designs, more diverse samples, data sources and levels of analysis.

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  1. Edwards, J. R., & Rothbard, N. P. (2000). Mechanisms linking work and family: Clarifying the relationship between work and family constructs. Academy of Management Review, 25, 178-199. DOI:10.2307/259269
  2. Greenhaus, J. H., & Beutell, N. J. (1985). Sources and conflict between work and family roles. Academy of Management Review, 10, 76-88. DOI:10.2307/258214
  3. Greenhaus, J. H., & Powell, G. N. (2006). When work and family are allies: A theory of work-family enrichment. Academy of Management Review, 31, 72-92.
  4. Dwyer, K. P. (2005). Still searching for equilibrium in the work-life balancing act. New York Times, Section 10, pp. 1,3.
  5. Greenhaus, J. H., & Allen, T. D. (2011). Work–family balance: A review and extension of the literature. In J. C. Quick & L. E. Tetrick (Eds.), Handbook of occupational health psychology (2nd ed.). (pp. 165-183). Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association.
  6. Allen, T. D., Herst, D. E. L., Bruck, C. S., & Sutton, M. (2000). Consequences associated with work-to-family conflict: A review and agenda for future research. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5, 278–308.
  7. Grandey, A. A., Cordeiro, B. L., & Crouter, A. C. (2005). A longitudinal and multi-source test of the work-family conflict and job satisfaction relationship. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 78, 305-323.
  8. Lu, L., Kao, S. F., Cooper, C. L., Allen, T. D., Lapierre, L. M., O`Driscoll, M., Poelmans, S. A. Y., Sanchez, J. I., & Spector, P. L. (2009). Work resources, work-to-family conflict, and its consequences: A Taiwanese–British cross-cultural comparison. International Journal of Stress Management, 16, 25-44.
  9. Pal, S., & Saksvik, P. Ø. (2008). Work-family conflict and psychosocial work environment stressors as predictors of job stress in a cross-cultural study. International Journal of Stress Management, 15, 22–42.
  10. Nielson, T. R., Carlson, D. S., & Lankau, M. J. (2001). The supportive mentor as a means of reducing Work–Family conflict. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 59, 364-381.
  11. Hammer, L. B., Kossek, E., Anger, W., Bodner, T., & Zimmerman, K. L. (2011). Clarifying work–family intervention processes: The roles of work–family conflict and family-supportive supervisor behaviors. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 96, 134-150.
  12. Wilson, M. G., Polzer-Debruyne, A., Chen, S. & Fernandes, S. (2007). Shift work interventions for reduced work-family conflict. Employee Relations, 29, 162-177.
  13. Greenhaus, J. H., & Powell, G. N. (2006). When work and family are allies: A theory of work-family enrichment. Academy of Management Review, 31, 72-92.
  14. Wayne, J. H., Musisca, N., & Fleeson, W. (2004). Considering the role of personality in the work-family experience: Relationships of the big five to work-family conflict and facilitation. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 64, 108-130. DOI:10.1016/S0001-8791(03)00035-6
  15. Sieber, S. D. (1974). Toward a theory of role accumulation. American Sociological Review, 39, 567-578. DOI:10.2307/2094422
  16. Crouter, A. C. (1984). Spillover from family to work: The neglected side of the work–family interface. Human Relations, 37, 425-441. DOI:10.1177/001872678403700601
  17. Voydanoff, P. (2004). The effects of work demands and resources on work-to-family conflict and facilitation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 398-412. DOI:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2004.00028.x
  18. Kossek, E.E., Pichler, S., Bodner, T., & Hammer, L. (2011). Workplace Social Support and Work-Family Conflict: A Meta Analysis Clarifying the Influence of General and Work Specific Supervisor and Organizational Support. Personnel Psychology, 64, 289-313.
  19. Dolcos, S., & Daley, D. (2009). Work pressure, workplace social resources and work-family conflict: The tale of two sectors, International Journal of Stress Management, 16, 291-311.
  20. Hammer, L., Neal, M., Newson, J., Brockwood, K., & Colton, C. (2005). A Longitudinal Study of the Effects of Dual-Earner Couples’ Utilization of Family-Friendly Workplace Supports on Work and Family Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 799-810.
  21. Moen, P., & Yu, Y. (2000). Effective work/life strategies: Working couples, work conditions, gender, and life quality. Social Problems, 47, 291-326.
  22. Thompson, C. A., & Prottas, D. F. (2005). Relationships among organizational family support, job autonomy, perceived control, and employee well-being. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10, 100-118.
  23. Casper, W. J., Eby, L. T., Bordeaux, C., Lockwood, A., & Lambert, D. (2007). A review of research methods in IO/OB work-family research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 28-43.

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